Well hello, kiddies.
It’s been a while since I’ve honored Minchin Monday.
Partly, it’s time. I’m busy.
Partly, it’s because Minchin only has so much to give us.
But mostly, it’s that I’m lazy. I could find some way to apply Minchin to life every single week. I’m slacking. And I’m not entirely sorry.
This Friday, I passed out in my car outside work. It was not as fun as it sounds. Although the diagnosis of the hospitalist was that the medications I take every day and have done for a year or more just suddenly made me pass out in my car for no good reason whatsoever, and although I was repeatedly asked whether I needed Narcan and, when I said no, asked whether I was telling the truth that the administration of Narcan wouldn’t change my condition, and although the cops showed up with the EMTs who were, actually, really sweet and kind, I was not overdosing.
There is something very wrong inside my guts but CAT Scans and other imaging can’t seem to find the cause. I went to an assignment at the Library Theatre, I felt like I was going to pass out, I left, I got in my car, I slid everything off my seat and into the passenger wheel well because I thought I was going to puke and I didn’t want to do that on my work camera or my kids’ tablets, my hands, feet, and face went numb, and I woke up to find an EMT offering to go full Mrs. Mia Wallace on me with a shot of Narcan.
And that’s the story of my Friday. And it does all come to bear because Saturday, when I finally got my phone recharged and was going through my messages my managing editor, who incidently was the one to find me geeking out in the alley behind the office, had texted me to find out whether he could delete some words from my column.
As I didn’t get back to him he didn’t run the column, which is okay. I knew it was nonpublishable as it was and I am given unheard of amounts of freedom with that column. I couldn’t very well blame him for not running it as it was. The plan had been to collaborate with him to figure out how to make it publishable and rework it Friday night. Before I passed out in my car.
This is the first week since January (last December, actually) that I’ve missed a column on Saturday. I’m bummed that my perfect attendance has been shattered, but I’m glad it didn’t run because it wasn’t ready. Not for the paper. But for here it’s perfect. So I’m pasting it in its entirety below with a clip from Minchin to complement the book/free thought theme.
Here we go. Me first:
“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”
Something to offend everyone
It’s banned books week, y’all.
Some of my favorite books of all time have been banned.
Some still are.
Wanna know why?
Because they’re powerful, and their power threatens someone’s moral or political agenda. Books have been threatened since antiquity, but since the mid-20th century, authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Mark Twain have been either censored, challenged, or banned outright from appearing on school library shelves.
And I don’t remember, in high school or middle school, whether there were books we weren’t allowed to read. But I know that I read A Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, Slaughterhouse Five (multiple times), Fahrenheit 451 (exponentially more times that Slaughterhouse), and A Clockwork Orange, in high school. Some for class. More for fun. I read The Witches of Eastwick. I read Harry Potter. I read Ulysses. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Canterbury Tales. Flowers for Algernon, I know for sure, I read in Beaty.
That’s been removed from school shelves in Pennsylvania and Texas more than once.
I named one of my children after the author of a banned book.
Why do people lose their minds over a book? Over fiction? They have their reasons.
And the big three are sex, cussing, and promotion of subversive ideas.
And all three of those reasons are garbage.
Because, guess what? Your kid? Your precious little darling Suzie/Johnny? That kid is gonna have sex some day.
Gasp. Go ahead, it’s okay. I said it.
That kid is going to have sex and say “bad” words, and challenge authority.
And those are all normal, healthy human behaviors.
Before your kid ever has sex, hopefully, he’s going to see or hear something about sex. Hopefully, it’s educational. Probably, it won’t be. Because television and the internet are things that exist. And you can try to ban the internet, but it’s (1) not going to work and (2) going to tick your kid off and send her running after the forbidden knowledge and away from you and your ability to provide guidance and insight into things she’s not emotionally ready to handle without, um, guidance and insight.
Would you rather have your kid learn about sex from James Joyce or two-minute clips of Girls Gone Wild on the internet? Because, if he learns about it from Ulysses, you’re definitely going to have to answer some questions. Because no one even knows what Ulysses is about. I’ve read it twice and I had no idea what just happened after I put it down both times. Letting your kid read Ulysses means you’re both going to have to do some homework, and a family research project is never a bad thing.
Nerd parents unite, in the form of book reports!
The point is the book is going to send your kid to you for answers. Or maybe a teacher. Either way, that’s precisely what you want. Because you can’t control your kid, and you can’t infatilize the natural progression of sexual maturity out of her. But you can make yourself available and approachable and hope she comes to you for information instead of that kid whose parents don’t put a key code on Cinemax.
Okie doke. What’s next?
Ah, yes. Vulgarity. My old, dear friend.
Listen, stop telling your kids that this word or that word is a “bad” word. I don’t care what your agenda is. Be real. You can’t assign a value to a conceptual thing like a word. Just like you can’t arbitrarily assign a value to a cloud, or a noise, or the wind, or the color purple.
See what I did there?
Anyway, some people use certain words for bad reasons, and that sucks.
But don’t you want your kid to understand why those words cause the emotional responses that they do? Because, if you are white, you cannot adequately explain the visceral reaction that the word “nigger” rightfully achieves. And Harper Lee didn’t do any better in her story of a voiceless black man being “helped” by the almighty white savior Atticus Finch. But you can let them read ‘Mockingbird,’ and then ask them to think about what it must have felt like to be Tom Robinson.
How about teaching your daughter the concept of consent — arguably a pretty important lesson with the definition of consent so inexplicably contested in courts around the country these days — by letting her read about how consent can be given, withheld, and manipulated to fit a personal agenda like Bob Ewell’s?
And you can have an open discussion, through a wise selection of the wide variety of books banned for their use of “bad” words, about the issues represented by everything from “faggot” and “queer” to “abortion” and “whore.”
If those words make you uncomfortable, then good! That’s excellent!
That’s exactly how you’re supposed to feel when confronted with those words.
That means they’re working as they should. Those words should make you uncomfortable because of the viper’s nest of complex issues they call forward. Talking to your kids about big ticket issues like racism, sex, promiscuity, the value of life, and oppression should make you uncomfortable, both because it requires you to expose your children to the ugliest, cruelest elements of humanity and for the fact that you cannot have those conversations with your kids without exposing your own belief system to a detailed cross-examination.
So you can cut those words out of classic texts and you can avoid your duty to shine a light on those parts of the human experience, our shared, universal history, that you would rather not acknowledge, but that doesn’t make them go away. And your kid won’t read about them in books, but she’ll hear them in music and on television and casually tossed about by every other kid who’s heard them from those sources without being counseled on the devastating potential of words to wound, or how to use them strategically, with precision and intent.
But that makes you part of the problem.
Because your kid is going to grow up, and find out that people like the KKK exist, and see the flags and hear the rhetoric and see protests on the news. But they won’t be prepared to handle the rhetoric, cognitively, in a way that is helpful. And it’s kind of been proven that the ability to evaluate rhetoric is essential to the development of desirable personality traits like wisdom and integrity and, like, not joining a cult and stuff.
That leaves us with subversion.
Uh oh. Somebody, quick! Get the holy water. My kid just read On the Origin of Species, and liked it, and how she’s going to hell for sure.
Aw, crap mother! Johnny read Invisible Man and how he’s going to be a G.D. Marxist.
Come on, dude.
If your religious or political belief system can’t stand up to the thorough and relentless curiosity of a child then it’s garbage. If your religious or political convictions are shaken by your inability to coerce others into believing them as well, then you’re wrong AND you’re nefarious. No one good wants to stop the asking of questions or the free expression of ideas, because fielding those questions requires one to constantly evaluate and inspect his own rationale. If that rationale and the belief system born of it are part of an agenda of control over the thoughts and actions of others, then it’s a bad rationale. It’s a bad belief system.
You know who doesn’t like questions and debate?
Political dictators and authoritarian parents.
Parents who say “because I said so,” not in an ironic way.
The books we ban, the questions we squash, the things we try to hide from our children, or from our own conscious awareness, are the best reflection of our deepest fears. And fear is the most natural reaction to what we consider a threat.
But you know what? Go ahead and keep banning the greatest pieces of literature known to humanity. Because you want to know how to get kids to run screaming to buy, not to mention to read the ever loving crap out of, a book?
Forbid them from reading it.
And there you have this weeks “censored” column. Although it’s not really censored. I knew Jon wouldn’t – couldn’t – run it as it was and I’m glad he didn’t. But I’m also glad it’s getting some play. Because I think it’s important.
Okay then. Let’s finish up today’s lesson with a hymn led by Tim Minchin and we can wrap up for the day.
Blessed be, y’all.